Superhero Movie Month: "Wanted" Review

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A non-stop action film starring James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie & Morgan Freeman. Wesley Gibson (McAvoy) is a mild-mannered Chicago office worker until he meets Fox (Jolie), who reveals to him that he's a member of an ancient secret organization called the Fraternity, which kills bad people. Upon learning from Fox that his estranged father has been murdered, Wesley completes training and becomes an avenging assassin.
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Rating: R
Length: 110 minutes
Release Date: June 27, 2008
Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov
Genre: Action / Crime / Thriller

Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, and James McAvoy star in this comedic action thriller directed by Timur Bekmambetov, the Kazakh director perhaps best known for "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer." The narrative of "Wanted" contains enough twists, turns and surprises to keep the audience guessing throughout. Yet, they are executed perfectly in keeping with the bizarre world set up in the film and organically connected to character development. The narrative never becomes convoluted, and the audience can enjoy the ride.

Wesley Gibson (McAvoy) is at the center of the narrative and in almost every scene of "Wanted." He is the only character in the film whose noble motivations the audience is never led to question. This sets a solid anchor for all the second-guessing, secretiveness and doubt with which he will be burdened throughout the film. He begins in a state of both panic and discontent. He is stuck in Chicago with a lousy job. He suffers mysterious panic attacks about the state of his life and about his past. McAvoy, a Scottish actor who perfected an American accent for the film, is dead-on playing the role of a Generation X man out of touch with his true self and muddling through whatever roles he can invent for himself.

His life soon takes an abrupt change when he meets a mysterious beauty named Fox (Jolie). Fox becomes both his mentor and his Virgil-like guide through the hellish secrets of his family's past. Fox informs Wesley that his murdered father was a renowned hired assassin. The father worked for a secret organization called the Fraternity, and a resentful ex-member of the Fraternity named Cross is now after Wesley. No sooner does the audience learn about this than Fox is engaged in a shootout with Cross and has to whisk Wesley away. Jolie cemented her mastery of the action heroine with "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" in 2001. She added an ironic layer to her portrayal of such roles with the comic hijinks of "Mr. & Mrs. Smith." In "Wanted," she brings the full arsenal of what she has learned in these roles to play. She becomes such an essential guide and defender of Wesley that the greatest tension in the film comes when doubts are raised about her motivations.

Jolie also makes sure that the audience takes the wild shenanigans of the plot with a grain of salt through the light-hearted relationship that Fox develops with the geeky, reluctant Wesley. This repartee makes the film as much a buddy flick, with the requisite contrasting characteristics of the buddies, as a crime thriller. In the end, the audience is meant to care as much about the oddness of this relationship as about unraveling the mysteries that brought the characters into their dire situation.

This gives "Wanted" an advantage over the formulaic action thriller, raising the personal stakes and making the characters more three-dimensionally human. The mysteries, however, continue to compile. At the Fraternity, Wesley meets the director and former partner of his dead father, Sloan (Freeman), who informs him that his panic attacks are an expression of hidden superhuman powers, which Wesley soon learns to control after arduous training at the Fraternity. He is, the audience believes, readying himself to avenge his father's murder. He also is shown the Loom, which reveals the targets of the Fraternity, individuals who must be eliminated before they cause great harm. The Loom, a device somewhat derivative from "Minority Report," becomes a central plot element in what it reveals not only about Wesley's past but also about the motivations of other characters.

When Wesley discovers that his father's own fate was not what he has been led to believe and that his own role in the Fraternity involves much more than he has been told up front, "Wanted" takes its most unsettling turn. The dramatic tension between the person that Wesley thought he had transformed into and the person that he must become leads to a highly charged conclusion that, nevertheless, is wrapped up too quickly and with too much exposition.

"Wanted," however, thrives on its light-hearted borrowing from a variety of genres and films to create its own unique blend of suspense and thriller action tempered with a comedic lightness based on the relationship of its two main characters. Bekmambetov gives Jolie and McAvoy enough room that their characters can establish a chemistry that is at the heart of the movie as much as the staggering thriller elements. However, it is these elements that decide the ultimate fate of the characters.